Charlotte, North Carolina
UMBC made history on Friday night, as they became the first 16-seed in the history of men’s college basketball to beat a No. 1 seed in March Madness.
Snowflakes fell early Friday as the Retriever fans and spirit teams packed the UMBC transit buses in the Stadium Lot. Seven hours later, they landed in front of the Hilton hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina, greeted by 70 degree weather, and a grand reception before heading off to the Spectrum Center to watch the America East Champion Retrievers take on the No. 1 overall team in the nation, the Virginia Cavaliers.
Fans lined both sides of the hotel entrance, and the band played the “UMBC Fight Song” as the team processed out of the lobby, and boarded their bus. Much like last week, the Retrievers did not pay the fans or spirit team much attention, as they were fixated on the goal in front of them: to shock the nation.
Retriever fans packed the stands, directly across from the UMBC bench. Virginia may have had more color in the building, but Retriever fans rivaled them in noise, and the team gave them plenty to cheer about. The game started with each team missing a shot, and Virginia was the first to strike with a field goal. UMBC answered back immediately, as freshman-center Daniel Akin received the ball in the paint area, and put in UMBC’s first tournament points.
UMBC started the game with a solid defensive effort, which has been a key focus from head coach Ryan Odom all season. However, on offense they looked skittish, making mental errors that seemed to stem from the pressure of the atmosphere surrounding them. Looking up from the floor, you could see the tens-of-thousands of fans surrounding you, and the Retrievers took time to adjust.
They never let No. 1 Virginia pull away from them as a 16-seed in this situation normally would. Rather, the Retrievers stayed in the game. After senior-guard Jourdan Grant made a three-point shot with 12:12 left in the half, the team gained confidence, taking their first lead just two minutes later on a three-pointer by sophomore-forward Arkel Lamar. From there, Virginia quickly regained the lead, and maintained it until with 4:39 left, during which senior-guard KJ Maura knocked down a three to tie the game 16-16.
A minute later, graduate-guard Jairus Lyles would give UMBC a late lead, with a three-point shot of his own. The score would hold at 19-19 after Virginia answered with three points of their own, until with 1:20 left in the half, when Arkel Lamar made a layup to give UMBC the lead. Virginia would answer, and UMBC would fail to convert on the other end of the court. UMBC drove up the court with 6 seconds left in the first half, and Lyles shot a mid-court three which would hit the rim, and bounce away from the court as the Retriever headed to the locker room tied with the No. 1 team in the country.
The second half started with a bang, as junior-forward Joe Sherburne converted an and-1 opportunity, and then a three-point shot. Virginia would score one point on a free-throw, and the Retrievers came right back to extend their lead to 7 on a layup by Maura with 17:38 left in the half.
The teams would continue to go back and fourth, but the Retrievers would eventually extend their lead to 8 as Lamar hit a three-point shot. The lead would quickly increase to 11 as Sherburne hit a three pointer.
Virginia could not keep up with the fast-paced, long-range game of the Retrievers. They showed glimpses of promise, but UMBC shut down the Cavaliers each time. The closest the Cavaliers came to the Retrievers was with 7:12 left in the game as they closed the gap to just 12 points.
But the Retrievers did not take their foot off the gas pedal. After a smart timeout by Lyles, they began to rebuild the lead as Grant made a basket to take the lead back to 14 with 6:50 left to go.
After the two teams traded blows for three minutes, the Retrievers continued to grow their lead to 17. The Virginia crowd grew silent, and the Retriever fans owned the Spectrum Center. With one minute left to go in the game, Grant hit a 3-point shot to seal the deal.
Jairus Lyles dribbled out the shot clock, leaving the game with about 6 seconds to go. Virginia would inbound the ball, and the clock would expire. The Retrievers had made NCAA history.
“Watching these guys smile and not just did these guys have passion in the end there but throughout the game. I think its pretty easy to tell from everybody in the arena these guys have passion, these guys love to play this game,” said Coach Odom after the game. “It means a lot to them. And it was just a special special … You know particularly the game our defense the first half helped us out,” he continued. “To go in 21-21 at halftime you know after not shooting it particularly well. Obviously Virgina had a lot to do with that. It was tremendous, it gave our guys some life there, they felt like they could play with them. Our spacing was tremendous and we were able to get some shots off in transition that would not normally happen if we didn’t get stops. Obviously these guys were tremendous, all the guys came and did what they particularly do which is defend well.”
“It’s crazy man, we’re the first 16 seed to beat a one seed, and to have the UMBC community behind us means the world to me,” said Grant. “We went from 4 wins, to 25 wins, a tournament win, and an America East Championship, it’s the best feeling I’ve ever had.”
The Retrievers play 9 seed Kansas State on Sunday at 7:45 p.m., if the Retrievers win Sunday they will advance to the Sweet 16 in Atlanta, GA.
“I just wanna give credit to our fans. They traveled a long way to come down here and support us it really helped us during the game so shout out to them,” said Jairus Lyles.